After pulling off a wire-to-wire victory in 2004 at the Milwaukee Mile, Ryan Hunter-Reay now has another trophy from the world's oldest speedway -- and, likely, some brownie points with his boss.
In the race that was promoted by his car owner Michael Andretti, Hunter-Reay pulled away from Tony Kanaan late to claim the Milwaukee IndyFest by 5.1 seconds for his first win of the season.
Hunter-Reay had to hang on to the point through two restarts within the final 35 laps to earn the victory for Andretti Autosport, which also netted a second spot on the podium thanks to James Hinchcliffe's third place finish. In addition, Andretti's promotional group, Andretti Sports Marketing, announced the return of the IndyFest to the Mile for next season.
Considering all that Michael and his group did to save the Mile, from bringing in a variety of attractions for those in the infield to making ticket prices more affordable, it's only fitting that one of his drivers ended up in Victory Circle, which was sponsored by DHL -- one of the winner's main backers.
"The Andretti Sports Marketing team has been so busy, I didn't know that detail," said Hunter-Reay, whose most recent win prior to Saturday was at a similar low-banked, mile-long oval at New Hampshire last season. "I remember thinking about 10 laps to go, 'This would be really cool, I got to stay on it here, make this happen.'"
Not that he felt any extra pressure to perform well.
"We put enough pressure on ourselves to go win," he said. "Every race is very important. These points are very precious each and every race. It's great to get a win here and be back where we belong."
As for Michael, who won five times at Milwaukee as a driver, he hopes that the IndyFest will be able to gain strength and support for 2013.
"We know this isn't something that's going to happen overnight," he said. "But I think for a first time out, it was really successful."
However, while Hunter-Reay was the class of the field late in the race, he may have also benefitted from not having to deal with a hard-charging Scott Dixon.
Despite starting 21st due to a 10-spot penalty incurred for an unapproved engine change (which came after Dixon lost his engine in a test session earlier this week at Iowa Speedway), Dixon showed that he was up to the challenge. He rose as high as fourth, and appeared ready to battle for victory in the second half of the 225-lap race.
But his march to the front was stopped when he was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for jumping a restart on Lap 103. Confusion ensued after the call, which was made by INDYCAR Race Control on the next restart.
The decision knocked Dixon out of the hunt, and to an eventual 11th place finish. After the race, INDYCAR chief steward Beaux Barfield explained that a timing problem involving the replay machine in Race Control was to blame for the incident; Barfield and his team were reviewing video of the wrong restart.
Barfield claimed full responsibility for the matter.
"I have been through issues before to play an incident all the way through to provide the full context, and that was an oversight on my part," said Barfield, who said he couldn't undo the penalty after it had been served by Dixon. "It was a technical issue and certainly human error. It is painful, nonetheless."
Dixon expressed disappointment after the decision and later tweeted that he felt "a little robbed." Hinchcliffe and Kanaan also believed that Dixon shouldn't have suffered the penalty.
"I was beside [Dixon]," said Hinchcliffe, who moved past Dixon into second place in the championship behind Will Power. "I saw it. It was 100% a violation. What I don't get is we threw the yellow, so he had to go back. He didn't do it again when it went green, so he didn't really gain anything...Was that a violation of the rule? 100 percent. Do I think the penalty was appropriate, given the circumstances? Maybe not necessarily."
"[Barfield] said he was going to give it a warning depending on the situation," Kanaan added. "But if they wave it off, I agree, he should not have gotten the penalty."
Meanwhile, Oriol Servia once again put together another quietly strong finish by vaulting 16 positions to finish fourth place. He was in line for the podium until Hinchcliffe wrestled away P3 from him with ten laps to go.
Still, the Spaniard continues to show his ability to overcome sub-par qualifying sessions and be one of the contenders on race day.
"We had to change the car completely overnight," he said. "But we qualified 20th and moved up sixteen spots -- not too bad."
Rounding out the top 5 was E.J. Viso, who led 27 laps before settling for fifth place, his best result of the season.
"I'm real upset about this race," he said afterwards. "I think we could have won this race or finished on the podium. That's a no brainer. But once again, the strategy didn't turn out to be in our way."
Helio Castroneves, Alex Tagliani, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal and Rubens Barrichello made up the rest of the top 10.